Webinar transcript: 10 Keys to unlocking successful benefits communications
Jen: Thanks for joining the webinar today. This is The 10 keys to unlocking successful benefits communication. I'm Jennifer Benz, I'm the founder and CEO of Benz Communications, and I'm joined today by Lindsay Kohler, one of our senior consultants on our team.
Lindsay: Thanks, Jen, and thanks everyone for joining.
Jen: Lindsay's been on our team for the last five years and leads some of our big engagements, particularly with our high-tech clients out here in Silicon Valley. I'm delighted to have her join us to share her experience and, a lot of our work and best practices around benefits communication. Before we jump in, a little bit about Benz Communications. We help great companies inspire people to improve their health, their finances, and their futures.
I started the business about 11 years ago. We serve Fortune 500 companies, with many of those on the 100 best companies to work for list. We're laser focused on employee benefits. This is work I've done my entire career and we absolutely love working with our clients and helping other organizations improve the health and finances of their employees. We're going to share a lot of great information with you today about that experience.
To start, I'm going to talk a little bit about how we know when employee benefits communication is working. Then we're going to dig into the 10 keys of successful benefits communication. We're going to talk about building your foundation, using a marketing approach, and how to allocate resources. We'll have plenty of time for Q&A at the end.
We know what successful benefits communication looks like. You certainly know when it is working in your organization. You hear great feedback from employees. They say, "Wow, I didn't know about this benefit. This is really relevant to me. This is so helpful. This was simple and uncomplicated. Thank you." You know that it works based on your business results. We have seen tremendous results from some of our clients implementing full HDHP replacement plans. Including one of our clients who was able to move 70% of their employees to an HSA in its first year without negative employee feedback. Our clients have incredible engagement across the whole spectrum of health, financial, and work-life benefits with consistent program participation year over year—in some cases up to 95%!
We can almost guarantee engagement with benefits when organizations make a big investment in their benefits communication. How do we replicate this success and how do you know as an organization where to invest? This is what led us to create the 10 keys to successful benefits communication. This is truly a formula for replicating the success that our clients have and ensuring that you know where to invest and how to get good results with your benefits communication.
There is no secret to this. We know how to do it. We know how to replicate success and we can apply what we've learned with our large employers to organizations of all sizes. What we're going to talk through today are what these 10 keys are and how they come to life. We've grouped them into three different groups: (1) foundation; (2) marketing approach; (3) resources. We’ll start with the foundation, which is really the first place to invest and what you need in order to get that branding for employee engagement. Your foundation starts with three components: strategy brand, and a website.
We’ll discuss how to take a marketing approach next. That means gathering employee feedback, focusing on simplicity, communicating year-round, targeted messages, and thinking through the whole employee experience. Then, of course, in order to accomplish all of this you need to have the right budget and resources in place. Those are the last two keys to success.
Jen: Let's start with the foundation. The foundation for successful benefits communication is key. Without these elements in place, we see organizations really struggle to implement a marketing approach, and implement some of the other tactics that we'll cover. First step to establishing your foundation is to create a communication strategy. Without it nothing else has direction or a unified purpose. You need to have a brand so that your communications have a recognizable look, feel, and tone. You also need to have one place that employees go for information that they can remember and access as needed. That's why it's so important to have a dedicated benefits website to market your benefits.
Jen: Let's dig into each of these in more detail. First, a strategy. Your benefits communication strategy is crucial for ensuring employees get the most from their benefits and how you will know where to focus your efforts. It's another way to examine and deepen your understanding of the role that benefits play in the success of your business because it's a way to articulate the connection between employee behaviors and those business results that you're trying to achieve. We really believe there's no point in communicating unless you know why you're doing it and what outcome you're striving for.
You want to make sure that you have that clarity among your team. The good news is a strategy doesn't have to be complicated. It doesn't have to be a big process to go through, but you do need to have a clear direction. This is the process that we go through with our clients to define that communication strategy. Start with setting goals and objectives, and being in tune with what drives your business and what's driving your benefit strategy. If you're focused on managing costs one of your goals might be getting employees to the right providers or decreasing the unnecessary healthcare spend. If you're focused on productivity you could have a whole different emphasis for your communication.
Identify the business goals you want to achieve, then break those down to map out how to get your employees to act. Of course, strategy requires a basic understanding of your audience and those specific behaviors that you are drying to drive. For example, do you want people to enroll in a specific plan, participate in a wellness program, not miss work as much?
With that clarity, you can think about how you drive action with the messages and the channels. What is the message that's going to get someone to act and what is the channel that's going to reach them. We'll talk more about channels when we get into the marketing approach. You also want to understand what are the points of data you can look at to measure the effectiveness of your communication. All the sources of data, whether it's how people are engaging with your communication or how they're using their plans, can help you know when you're making progress.
This is an iterative process. It doesn't have to be difficult or painful, but it's helpful to have a strategy in place before you start building the next piece of the foundation, which is your benefits brand. Lindsay will talk about that next.
Lindsay: In today's world, you are competing with incredibly sophisticated marketing techniques and the sheer amount of communication that people receive like notifications, emails, chats, junk mail—it just continues to grow. We've entered this place where we're in this world of classic information overload. The question becomes how do you stand out from the crowd? A solid brand consistently applied gives prioritization to what you have to say. It's an easy way for employees to quickly pick out your communications from the masses and the millions that they receive. A great plan can ensure your communications are recognized. It helps break through that clutter we talked about to capture their attention. It also helps give you some credit for the money you invest in your program and lends some credibility, consistency, and reliability to the employee experience.
I want to stress this point—do not underestimate the power of brand. Think about some of the brands you know and some you see on this slide and think about the emotion that they can generate. It's pretty powerful stuff. We love this quote that you see on the slide here from Marc Benioff, who is the CEO of Salesforce. He says, "To be effective, a company's brand must be consistent. A company must use its people, it's products, and its messaging to consistently reinforce the same positive points it wants to demonstrate."
Let's take a moment to talk about how to develop your unique brand. One solution for this is to work with your internal communications team or an outside agency to develop a specific benefits brand. I know that some of you may not have the resources to hire a partner to help with brand, but—even if you're not a designer or marketing pro—you can still make this happen. You need to just tap into a few things that already exist. That would be your company's style guide and your brand guidelines. Some companies have more than one guide, one to address overall brand description and design direction, and another to guide content. Ask your marketing team to send you any and all style and content guides you have.
What you see on the slide here is an example of the consistency that you can create after you’ve developed your unique benefits brand. Every piece has a different story to tell, but they all look like they're part of one thing, one message. The following slide is a great example of how external and internal brands come together. This is an external advertisement for NVIDIA which is a company that produces chips for gaming and other processing units. It's very masculine, it's exciting, it's powerful. Now let’s look at a different, but related approach for the internal benefits communication piece. It remains true to the company's corporate branding style guide, but introduces photography of actual employees. This gives it a more approachable and authentic quality. It still feels completely on brand, but employees know that it's something specifically for them.
Jen, can you take us through an example of how the company brand guidelines can become a benefits brand style guide?
Jen: Absolutely. This slide shows some of the work we did with Hitachi Data Systems a few years ago. We started with their company brand guideline and, through several iterations to understand what their employees need and how to connect with them, we got to the heart of what would be a benefits brand. From this process, we created a related, but separate brand for their benefits. You can see how, on screen, there are some elements of the style guide and then this page shows what this actually looks like when it comes to life.
The left is Hitachi’s website and then some pieces from their campaign on the right. This is recognizable as Hitachi Data Systems, but has elements that make the benefits come to life using photos, icons, and a warmer and friendlier appeal. That type of consistency and that type of emotional connection is really helpful when you're creating a brand.
Foundation: Benefits website
Jen: The next component of your foundation for benefits communication is a website. If you've been on any of our webinars before I probably sound like a broken record on this, but every organization needs a branded website that is outside of their firewall that talks about benefits. It is the marketing front door to all the great programs that you offer.
This is important to getting people to use and pay attention to their benefits. It needs to be as easy as possible for them to access information. When you have a single destination for employees, their families, recruiters, and your new hires it creates a seamless experience and a simple way for people to get their questions answered. It helps them minimize frustration of not knowing which vendor to go to or which provider to contact, and it gives you a good way to brand that whole experience.
We know that the benefits world is a complex and confusing ecosystem of administrators, providers, and programs, so having one place that employees go for information is absolutely critical to getting them to take action. This is an example of Adobe site. Of course, it looks gorgeous whether you're viewing it on a desktop, tablet, or a mobile device. The way that mobile trends are going, it's so important that employees can take action and access all the key information using their mobile device. Your benefits website is the last component of the foundation.
Once that foundation is in place, you need to market and deliver your communications and get people to pay attention to these throughout the year.
Lindsay: There are five key elements that will help you create that true marketing approach to your benefits communications. Getting employee feedback—what do your employees say they want, how are they responding to your current communication efforts and simplicity. We all know that benefits are already complicated enough, so leave the jargon at home. Using multiple communication channels helps you meet employees’ different learning styles. You need to keep the conversation going year-round. Targeting, as I mentioned before, lets you be really specific about what you have to say to ensure your communications are relevant to whomever receives them. Finally, we'll want to talk about how the overall employee experience factors into how engaged employees are with your benefits.
Marketing approach: Feedback
Lindsay: I want to start with feedback and user research. How you collect feedback will help you gain empathy and insight into the employees you're creating solutions for. For example, you could invest significant time in restructuring your wellness program incentives to make it easier to complete, only to then discover that it wasn't the steps themselves preventing people from earning the incentive, but rather that the reward for completion wasn't motivating enough. We'll talk about a few common ways to gather employee feedback including focus groups, surveys, and user testing in more details.
Feedback is really easier to collect than you might think. First, it's fairly easy to recruit employees for interviews. In general, I would say employees love to give benefits and HR team their feedback, as you can all probably attest to. The type of feedback that you're looking for like how someone feel about “X” or how someone interacts with “Y” will help determine which method you should use, and how to collect it. Here are a few that are fairly easy for HR and benefits teams to use. We’ll start with surveys. They're quick to develop and deploy, and they're great for capturing very specific information about a large group of people.
With interviews, we recommend one-on-one conversations. They're this great way to build the necessary rapport to get vulnerable and honest insights. They're especially useful when discussing sensitive topics like concerns new parents may have with balancing work demands with the demands of being a new parent or adjusting back to work after an extended time away.
Focus groups allow you to have an interactive discussion and test initial reactions. You can then take those insights and extrapolate findings across the larger organization.
Another great way to gather feedback is observation. Simply watching how employees behave or interact with your programs actually provides amazing insight because often what employees say they do and what they actually do tend to be quite different. You can do observations via usability tests, interactions with a prototype, and more. There's a lot of ways to make this happen. I know Jen has some sound opinions about simplification.
Marketing approach: Simplicity
Jen: The next element of taking a marketing approach with your benefits communication is simplicity. This is where it really is the responsibility of the employer to make that extra effort to make communication simple for people to understand. We're all pros in benefits and nothing that's on this screen is confusing at all, but the average employee does not. They lack confidence when it comes to healthcare and financial jargon. These topics are overwhelming to the average person so it’s crucial to make sure that we're not using jargon and that we're simplifying information wherever possible. We know that adults have very basic levels of health literacy, even though a lot of times we're asking them to make very complicated health decisions. Understanding that individual employee by using some of the feedback methods is a great way to get into that mindset of how overwhelming all of these topics really can be for the average employee.
Then you and your team have to go that extra effort to make it really easy for folks. We really like this list of ways to simplify the communication. One way to focus your efforts is to make your communication about using benefits, having a clear call-to-action, and a clear way that people can take a step forward. It helps to make things relevant to age, family, and life stage and go that extra mile to figure out the math, not make people do calculations on their own, to understand how things are changing or what impacts them. Doing that extra leg work for them is really important.
You want to make sure that you're helping people take things step-by-step, not overwhelming them with huge complicated lists of things to do or overwhelming decisions to make, so short lists and then thoughtful information design. All of these require more effort, but they're so worth it in terms of getting people to actually use the plans properly and appreciate what you're offering. This is an example that I really love of an infographic we created to explain one of the most complicated things we deal with day-to-day: how deductibles and claims work in a high deductible health plan. It has a friendly title, “Deductibles, claims & prescriptions, Oh My!” The graphic itself breaks down all of this complicated information in a simple flow chart. Giving someone this to look at versus a long, detailed document that explains all this in text is going to go a long way toward employees feeling confident in taking action.
Another example—also from Adobe's HSA campaign—we had great success when they introduced their HSA plan. We were able to move 62% of employees into that plan the first year because of all the effort they put into the 10 keys that we're talking about. This is a targeted postcard—based on employees’ current health plan election—helped make it very clear how the new plan compared to their current plan. We went to great lengths to simplify this information, “Five ways you win with an HSA” with five short, clear points, and simplifying the information in terms of how the new plan compares to their current plan. All of that effort helps make it easy for someone to see what's relevant to them.
This is next example is from NVIDIA where the goal was to get people to go to the benefits website and find out more. We tailored messaging to resonate with their primarily male, engineering workforce: “Hungry for great benefits? You've come to the right place.” That slogan was used in a place mat at their cafeteria during enrollment. Very simple calls-to-action, very clean design. That's really how we get folks to engage and simplicity is key to that.
Marketing approach: Year-round
Jen: Also critical to taking a marketing approach is to communicate year round and to use a variety of channels with that communication. Communication can't stop once a program is implemented or after annual enrollment. We need employees to engage in their benefits throughout the year, to use the plans properly, to take advantage of all the things that are helping them with their work and their life which ultimately impacts their productivity.
Frequent communication is necessary to keep things top of mind and help people understand what's relevant for them. What's also important to think about is when you launch a program. There are so many different channels that you can use. All the traditional channels like guides, newsletters, postcards, and online/interactive channels give us a wide breadth of formats to use on your Intranet or benefits website, in your emails, social media, or decision-support tools. We really love the unexpected channels, whether that's an infographic or a large installation that takes over your lobby.
There are so many ways that you can play with communications to get folks engaged. It's just really key that communication never stops and you keep peppering employees with information throughout the year. This is the way people learn. It's the way that consumer marketing works. It's also the way that you get people to engage in their benefits. Lindsay's going to talk about targeting those messages, which is a way to make that year-round education even more effective.
Marketing approach: Targeted
Lindsay: Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to reaching employees may seem more cost effective upfront, but it won't drive the desired outcome or levels of engagement that you need to move the needle. You're competing in a world that is highly personalized and I'm sure you all have examples of this. Think about the last time you Googled something and then, lo and behold, the same thing pops up in your Facebook newsfeed. I have an example of that that happened to me just the other day I was Googling some flights for the upcoming weekend and then what do I see in my Facebook feed immediately after? Virgin America, of course.
That's why everyone does sophisticated targeting, except for many benefits and HR professionals. Just 11% of employers communicate by demographic group and only 36% communicate by benefit behavior. These stats are from our Inside benefits communication survey. As benefits managers, you have this incredibly diverse population to engage. They're diverse in terms of age, family situations, and earnings. I bet if you look at your employee population, you probably have people that range from pretty low income in some cases to incredibly high levels of income amongst your executive population.
You're trying to capture the attention of all of these folks and get them engaged in really complicated and overwhelming stuff. That is another huge reason why we target. There are so many ways that you can slice and dice your communication. Data is getting increasingly sophisticated in the employee benefits and HR space. We see these really smart tools and resources that serve up personalized views of benefits, finances, and health. As we said before, everyone is exposed to an unreal amount of marketing every day, just thousands of marketing messages come at us from all the channels we mentioned and this information overload is really taxing on us. It makes it difficult to make decisions.
We have to help employees along the way and we can do that by making our messages more targeted and more focused. Here's an example of enrollment communications where a new plan was being introduced and the communication was essentially the same. There were five panels, those were all the same, but this inside panel shown on the slide had different messaging based on the individual’s current medical to make it easy for employees to see and make decisions. This allowed employees to see what was different and what was the same between medical plans. However, we can't talk about benefits communication in any of these silos without considering the overall experience.
Marketing approach: Employee experience
Jen: Our final element in taking a marketing approach is to look at that overall employee experience. We spend about a third of our adult life at work. How you design the workplace, the programs that you offer, how you communicate them, how the incentives are designed, how the plan defaults are designed, all these things have a huge influence on your employees’ health and financial wellbeing. As part of taking a marketing approach is making it easy for employees to take action. This is why we hear so much about user experience design. Consumer marketing is about getting people to buy. Benefits communication is about getting people to act. We want them to do something. I would say the question here is really, “are you designing programs to make the right decisions easy?” We don't necessarily want them to take just any action, we want them to take specific action that is going to benefit them now and in the future.
Lindsay: That's such a great point, Jen. I would add that there's so much we know about behavioral science that can be applied to plan design to create and craft these experiences that you want for your employees. Human resources and benefits managers are also choice architects who are professionals that design how choices can be presented to impact the decisions people make. Therefore, the way that you approach your plan design and your communication strategy has an amazing ability to influence employees’ actions. You need to make sure that you can get people to take that right action at the right time.
I think a few things to think about and consider when designing your employees' experiences is to define the problem. What are you itching to help your employees with? Where are they getting stuck? Then use that strong point of view about what's best for your employees to really define meaningful, specific and impactful problems to solve that will make a real difference in the day-to-day experience. You should also conduct user research. Like we said before, it's one of the most important ways to gain insight and empathy into what your employees need. Don't be afraid to get creative when you brainstorm solutions. Brainstorming can generate a lot of nontraditional ideas for you to implement in the workplace and in your program designs.
Finally, you should test your best ideas to see what hits the mark, see what doesn't, and then refine your plan before you launch. Jen, can you take us through how this employee experience would look like in the HR world?
Jen: Absolutely. Whether you’re making big changes to your benefits, introducing a program, or thinking about how to improve the overall experience and elevate the benefits experience, we look at a couple different things. If it's going to be a specific program rollout or a specific plan change, we want to focus on what is the employee experience and what is it that we need employees to do. You need to have that focus when you're in the planning and plan design stage. That is, when you're making decisions about what things are going to cost or where you're going to default people, or whether the plan designs are easy to understand or not. The implementation and pre-enrollment phase is the time to look at how the systems connect and where you’re asking your employees to go to do these various actions.
Then, of course, enrollment is the big campaign where we're actually asking people to make an election—whether that's for their health or for their finances—and then that needs to roll into year-round support. Once we've moved people into a plan or we've gotten them to change their investments in their 401(k), you’ll want to think through the kind of year-round support that's needed to help continue that experience. We're working with a large University on a big change right now and going through that process piece by piece has allowed us to create a program that is better positioned for success because the entire employee experience has been thought through. All the places where people can get stuck or where things are going to be inconsistent have been refined and smoothed out. Connecting the dots and making choosing the right action easy is such an important piece to the overall employee experience.
You can also look at the whole employment life cycle. That includes when individuals are coming into the organization as a candidate and talking with your recruiters, to after they're brought on as a new hire and go through their career, to when they become quite seasoned in the organization, thinking through what that process looks like and evaluating if your benefit programs are aligned to drive to the actions that you want. Doing this type of exercise with a team and mapping things out on the board is actually really fun work. And, you’ll be able to see how some simple changes to the systems, settings, or your program defaults can make a big difference in employee perception of their benefits and how they’re using the programs. That's why we like looking at the overall employee experience as that last piece of having a marketing approach to your benefits communication.
Jen: Finally, let's talk about the last two of our 10 keys, which have to do with resources. This is really important because everything we've talked about takes time, effort, and expertise. You don't necessarily need to have an external team to deliver on everything we've covered, but you do need resources—whether that be your internal team, external support, your vendor partners, or a specialized firm. The biggest impediment we see developing more effective communication comes down to resources. You know you could be doing more, but you don't have the budget, or your team doesn't have the time, or your internal team doesn't have the expertise.
Jen: Let's talk about how you really get more resources—and the right resources—in place to deliver on your benefits communication. The first place to start is with a budget. It's important to focus on the value of communication, not the cost of those communications. We often see benefits communication budgeting as an afterthought rather than an integral part of creating a cohesive strategy for your benefits. And, it needs to be wedded to those plan design discussions and overall benefits budgeting. When you focus on the value of benefits communication, not the cost, you can see that a little bit of additional effort is worth so much to the overall organization.
What would it be worth to the organization if all employees were taking full advantage of their benefits? What about if everyone was showing up and being productive because they're taking advantage of all those benefits? Attracting, engaging, and retaining top talent can also improve because the value of benefits is clear and reinforces your position as an employer of choice. Your workforce will be less inclined to move to another organization with richer benefits if you articulate the value of your benefits offering clearly. Perhaps when you look at your benefits strategy you need to migrate people into higher-deductible plans or you need to make major changes with your healthcare strategy, and you need to do that in a way that the workforce is still going to be engaged and feel valued.
All of this is the value of effective benefits communication. When you compare the cost of investing in benefits communication to the overall cost of your benefits, your communication budget is very insignificant. Typically, we see three junctures when companies need to reevaluate the resources that they invest in benefits communication: (1) Company growth; (2) growing pains; (3) and big changes to your benefits. Revisiting your communication budget during any of these points is often the best opportunity to make that case for the larger business results that you can create.
The first pivot point is the growth stage to really get ahead of or catch up with an expanding employee population. We see a lot of our clients make a big investment in internal communication of all kinds. When your organization is about 2,000 to 5,000 employees, that's when they need to develop much more robust, strategic, and resourced employee communications infrastructure overall. It's also where the cost of benefits becomes enough to justify a big investment in communicating them properly and ensuring that the organization is getting the full value from those benefits.
The second point might be that you've outgrown your current infrastructure and it's painful. Employees don't know where to go, they're frustrated, your team is answering the same question a million times over and as a result we do see benefits get left behind as internal communications evolve. It's the area of internal communications that the internal resources do not want to touch—or do not have the time to touch—that can leave a gap in the benefits team. This can cause pain points around where people are accessing information, where complaints are happening, or an inability to get traction even with valuable programs in place. This is how you know you've outgrown your current communication infrastructure and need to invest in something new.
Finally, the third pivot point is to really look at a big change as an impetus for leveling up the whole communication infrastructure, whether that's a big change to healthcare plans or perhaps a whole total rewards optimization, or even introducing new leave benefits. Any big change like this demands strategic communication. It's a good opportunity to create the infrastructure and then make sure that communication efforts continue year-over-year, not just during the time of change. As I mentioned before, the cost of communication is incidental compared to the cost of benefits themselves. With larger organizations that have at least few thousand employees, you can allocate less than 1% of the cost of benefits and make a huge impact on communication.
If you're a smaller organization you may want to use more internal support or lean on your vendors in order to get those results. But, regardless, a very small effort goes a long way and getting the right resources in place is key to that.
Lindsay: I want to reiterate what Jen said about having lots of people to lean on to get this up and running the right way. You can hire external experts to support your communication such as a specialized agency, HR consulting, or perhaps outsourcing the firm's communication practice. It could be a broker who has communication offerings or even freelancers. There are many who specialize in employee benefits communication and this is often the quickest path to results because you will have dedicated experts who are there to help you succeed.
We also encourage you to lean on your vendors. Your vendors—such as administrators, your wellness programs, your individual plan providers—have a lot to offer for employee communications and it's often free. If you haven't already, consider hosting a partner summit where all of your vendors can meet and work together toward the same goals (which are your goals). Also, bringing your vendors together helps them better collaborate and coordinate their efforts better to take some work off your plate.
Jen: Agreed, aligning the right combination of great people with a lot of expertise in benefits communication can really help you make progress quickly. Those are our 10 keys and, to recap, we have covered establishing your foundation which is your strategy, your brand, and your website. Then we walked you through taking a marketing approach using feedback, focusing on simplicity, communicating year-round through a variety of channels, and targeting your messages that will help you think through the overall employee experience. Finally, we talked about resources which includes having enough budget in place and choosing the right partners to support your communication efforts.
We know it can be a little bit overwhelming to think about where to start. We have actually created a little online quiz that will help you evaluate where your organization is across these 10 keys. You can go to Benzcommunications.com/checkup and take the quick online quiz. After you take the quiz, you can see where to prioritize your time. We really recommend focusing on the foundational pieces if you don't already have those in place and once those are in place, you can then start to have a little fun with all of the different marketing tools and techniques.
We have a bit of time for Q&A. It looks like we have quite a few questions that have come in.
Here’s a great question: Lindsay, are there any differences in using these keys for health and wellness communication versus retirement topics versus work-life?
Lindsay: The answer is there's really no difference in what topics you use these keys for. Whether it’s healthcare or retirement, our 10 keys will help you make sure you get the results you're looking for. I would say one thing that we see quite often is that companies focus almost all their attention on healthcare and wellness programs because that's typically where a lot of the changes are and where people are trying to drive better behaviors. That being said, I see a lot of organizations neglect the other benefits such as retirement. I would love to see these keys applied more consistently to retirement and financial wellness.
Jen: A great question has come in: This is a broker who is working with a client who wants new benefits communication design every year to keep the materials fresh. “You discussed the importance of an easily identifiable brand so would this break the rule of having a consistent brand?” I would say there's a happy medium there. We often refresh a brand or change a campaign theme every year to keep things looking new and fresh, but—as for the foundation of the brand—we want to make sure that the brand is recognizable and consistent.
Lindsay: I would also say, another important element that doesn't change from year to year is a brand tagline. It’s important to make sure that tagline always remains the same and is on the piece as it helps with being recognizable. Like Jenn said, there's a balance between refreshing versus changing your brand completely and I would also argue that employees do not get tired of communications the same way that you might. Having to write it and see it every day might make it seem like it needs a refresh but your employees might not be looking at it as often as you do. We've actually tested this assumption with a few clients to see if there’s a need to start from scratch every year.
Jennifer: Here’s a great question about the partner summit and getting everyone together. This listener says, "I love the idea of being able to bring all of the vendors together. How does this stuff come to life?"
Lindsay: Lucky for you, you're holding all of the cards. What I've seen work well before is to choose a day that works for everybody, obviously. Focus on the four or five vendors that you interact with the most. You probably want your health plan provider, your wellness provider, your retirement plan provider, and any sort of outsourcing platform that you use to all get together and spend the day together to share your goals. They might not understand how their systems connect, so it's helpful to have everybody talk through how they work with you and then how the pieces could work together. Maybe there's some synergy between what the wellness plan and the health plan is doing and how that works with incentives. The key point is coming into it with the spirit of open dialogue and sharing.
Jen: Great. Next question says, "Do you have any stats about organizations putting their benefit site outside of the firewall? We want to go this route, but senior leaders want evidence that it's a smart move." I would say that you can look to our inside benefits communication survey, which was done in 2014, so the numbers have certainly increased by then. At that time about 90% of companies had their benefits information online and about 50% had it outside of the firewall. I also think the examples of organizations out there who are doing this very successfully, and have been for years, are really helpful for making that case. Many of our clients have had these websites outside of the firewall for 10+ years. There are examples of many very conservative organizations that have used that approach for many, many years. I'd be happy to share more of those specifics offline, but this is definitely a very prevalent approach.
There are enough organizations that have done it for 10+ years that no one needs to worry that they are an early adopter at this point. I would encourage anyone who does not have that benefits website outside of their firewall to prioritize that as their next best investment. Another question here, Lindsay, "Are focus groups really feasible? We've had struggles with them in the past."
Lindsay: Yes, Jen. They're incredibly feasible. I will say if you think logistics is what's holding you back that is the easiest part of all of it. It usually takes an email out to recruit participants. Like we said before, people are delighted to give you their opinion on just about anything. You can schedule one-on-one interviews, which only take about 15 minutes, or you can get a whole group together by reserving a conference room for the day, or have a call-in if there are remote employees as well. Logistics should not hold you back from conducting focus groups.
Jen: There's a concern with focus groups which is if employees tell you they want something and you don't give it to them that somehow the focus groups are going to be a huge failure. I would encourage you to get that concern off the table. You can always preface things with the reason that you're having focus groups and the way that the information will be used. That is an invaluable way to get feedback from employees and do not have to be difficult to orchestrate. Another question: "Where would you suggest we start getting branding help for our communication?"
Lindsay: I would say start with your marketing department and ask to see their style guides. Once you take a look at them, be sure that everyone who touches communication references and applies them to the best of their ability. I know not everyone is a designer, but you can at least make sure your communications are in the right colors for the brand and using the right content style guides. Really reference that voice and reference those guidelines in terms of even the little things like the Oxford comma. It’s down to the tiniest details, but it's those little things that really make or break the brand. Your marketing department will have those guidelines in place already.
Jen: Another question here, "What's the right benefits communication approach for a different sized company?" This is a great question. As we mentioned, when we were talking about resources, we really see around 2,000 to 5,000 employees the bracket for a need to put a lot of energy behind benefits communication. For smaller organizations, there might be a more simplified approach that works. Small organizations can benefit more easily having access to employees more often and have fewer locations. In many cases, in very small organizations, meetings and word of mouth can be very effective, whereas in large organizations those methods are less effective. There's definitely the right mix of all of this for smaller organizations. You can lean on your partners in similar ways.
Another great question. "What is the best way to bridge the communication gap between white and blue collar workforces?" I would say there's often a communication gap in terms of the channels that you use to reach them, as well as in some cases the fluency with the information. With a white collar workforce you might be able to lean on email, the Intranet, webinars, and online meetings. Those employees generally have a lot more flexibility in their day to interact with communications and can ask for help with a call to HR. A blue collar workforce might not have access to those resources like the Intranet or email at all. They may have a very structured day where they cannot be off the floor to engage with HR. Looking at these audiences differently is important.
As part of strategy and planning, we always develop personas to really understand the needs of those populations. Lindsay, do you want to share a little bit more about thinking through personas?
Lindsay: Sure. One thing to add on about the blue collar workforce, too, is while you may not have as many opportunities to engage electronically, you often have a chance for a more in person, hands on experience. There are a lot of group standups at the beginning of the day that are structured meeting times for them or even in the back break room. It doesn't have to be fancy. It can be flyers or posters or something in the back break room. That’s one difference. Sometimes it makes it easier when you get to have that personal touch.
We’re a really big fan of personas. A persona is essentially a story of a person. It says who they are, their age, their income, if they're married or not, and it tells a story about who they are and what's important to them. The reason we do that is it can be really difficult to write the right message if you're talking to Jane Doe, but if I'm talking to Summer who's 25 that makes $40,000 a year and she's really looking to make an impact at work and maybe thinking about going back to school as well, that changes the story. Having personas for the different elements of your workforce really helps you gear your communication strategy and the tone of your messages.
Jen: Great. All right, well we are just about out of time. Those are great questions. I want to, again, mention the online questionnaire that you can take to run through and evaluate how your organization stacks up against these 10 keys. That's a Benzcommunications.com/checkup. It'll just take you a couple minutes to go through that information. We have lots of other resources on our website, tons of information to help you be successful with your communications, and understand the best practices. Some of our recent resources include how to use social media for employee benefits communication. That's a piece we just recently updated. The guide we produced was from seven or eight years ago, so that's a great recent resource. We have a piece all about the value of investing in benefits communication that will help you prove that ROI case.
We have a roadmap for creating this strategy and the campaign debrief workshop. This is something to think about using prior to your open enrollment campaign this Fall. These are just a few of the resources we have online. We write constantly on our blog and are always talking about everything with benefits communication, so please check out those resources. With that, thank you so much for joining us today. Lindsay, thank you for sharing everything.